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Larsen C Has Finally Broken Off of Antarctica – Now What?

It finally happened: A portion of the Larsen C ice shelf broke off of Antarctica between July 10 and July 12, according to the Project MIDAS research group. The iceberg, which weighs more than a trillion tons, is approximately the size of Delaware. The crack in the ice shelf had been observed for years leading up to its final separation.

When it broke away from Antarctica at the beginning of July, many people began to predict doom and gloom – surely this was a sign of climate change, right? Weren’t sea levels bound to rise to intolerable levels? As it turns out, many people had misunderstandings about Larsen C and its new position in the vast sea.

iceberg, icebergs, oceanLarsen C and Sea Levels

Prior to its departure from Antarctica, Larsen C was already floating in the ocean, meaning there will not be a massive amount of water displacement. However, sea levels could change if the shelf loses more of its area, according to the researchers. (MIDAS, n.d.)

“It could result in glaciers that flow off the land behind speeding up their passage towards the ocean” wrote Project MIDAS on its blog. “This non-floating ice would have an eventual impact on sea levels, but only at a very modest rate.”

And as for the entire situation being caused by global warming, scientists aren’t so sure that humans played a critical role in the Larsen C crack developing in its entirety. The ice shelf had been in a fragile state for more than a decade.

“We have no evidence to link this directly to climate change, and no reason to believe that it would not have happened without the extra warming that human activity has caused,” Project MIDAS lead researcher Adrian Luckman told CNN. (Said-Moorhouse, CNN, 2017)

Looking Ahead to Antarctica’s Future

Despite the fact that sea levels are not going to immediately change due to this recent development with Larsen C, researchers are aware of its implications.

“Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position,” said Dr. Martin O’Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team. “This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable.”

References

MIDAS, P. (n.d.). Larsen C calves trillion ton iceberg. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from http://www.projectmidas.org/blog/calving/
Said-Moorhouse, CNN, L. (2017, July 12). Massive iceberg breaks away from Antarctica. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/12/world/larsen-c-antarctica/index.html